Sauber have been slowly, but steadily, gathering steam this weekend. Their efforts culminated in a double-Q3 appearance for the first time this season and a promising outlook for tomorrow’s race. Even more impressive, though, is the way they have outperformed Mclaren. Always teetering on the brink of competitiveness, Mclaren has always had a scrap on its hands, whether it be with Force India, Toro Rosso or now Sauber. With the latter out-qualifying both Mclarens with both of their cars, a shift in the competitive order could be on the horizon for the rest of the season.
If Sauber can maintain the momentum they discovered in Italy, then they have a very good chance of catching and overtaking Toro Rosso in the constructors’ standings, which would then secure many vital millions in prize money.
For now, though, points are vital. With Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez getting to grips with the car points have to be the goal every weekend. Laying the foundations for points on Saturday is also vital as most teams fully understand how to get the most out of the Pirelli rubber. The fact that Sauber have found this form so late in the season is a testament to the breadth of talent within the team despite an acute lack of funding. Surges like the one we are seeing from Sauber are usually only seen from top teams. Just as Red Bull composed itself this time last season on its way to a third constructors’ crown, so is Sauber churning away at its deficit to the front of the field.
Credit is due to Gutierrez, though. It is hard to overestimate the talent that is Nico Hulkenberg; that much is true. But for Gutierrez to come into Formula One with such little experience and be competitive with him is perhaps even more impressive than the actual results Hulkenberg has achieved this season alone. Many forget that back in May during the Spanish Grand Prix, it was a certain young Sauber driver from Mexico who set the fastest lap of the race…
Gutierrez also faces continuous comparisons to his countryman, Sergio Perez. This time last season, Perez had just been announced as a Mclaren driver, thus securing his future for the next few years. His season with Sauber, however, completely fell apart. No one really knows why Perez failed to shine for the rest of 2012 after the Mclaren announcement; perhaps the pressure to continually impress got the better of his normally rock-solid composure, or maybe his teammate hit his stride at just the wrong time for his own public perception. That may never be known, but what is clear, and it is crystal, is that Gutierrez is one composed character.
Not only is his future in doubt, but it is in doubt after less than one season. Despite all of this, Gutierrez is hitting his own stride. Two-consecutive Q3 appearances are nothing to brush away when you consider how dreadfully his season began and how deep the end in which he was thrown in was. Will he be the next big superstar of the sport? Most likely not. That comes very rarely. But do we know that he won’t? We don’t. And the anticipation of finding out whether he is or not could be what helps him stay in Formula One. That, and finally scoring the points he so thoroughly deserves this weekend.